Yulin’s Dog Meat Festival

China’s most controversial food festival will once again polarize the nation for a week this month. Are dogs different than cows? Does tradition trump sympathy?

0617_Whats the Deal With

The annual Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, or the Dog Slaughter Festival referred by animal activists, has become a routine June write-up for media around the world. This year’s narrative took a different approach with a surprise announcement claiming that the Yulin government is set to ban dog meat trading a week before the festival, which will begin on June 21.

A press release from Humane Society International and the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project (DDAWP) on May 17 revealed that restaurants, street vendors and market traders will be prohibited from selling dog meat a week ahead of the festival. The ban is said to be initiated by Yulin’s new party secretary Mo Gongming to improve the international image of the city and promote positive tourism. Any violation will be fined up to 100,000 RMB.

Though animal welfare activists applauded the move and stated it’s the first step to eliminate the cruel event, media reported that local restaurant owners didn’t know anything about the new law. “Why would we issue such a document? Yulin doesn’t have any dog meat festival in the first place,” said one government official to Apple Daily.

Whether true or not, the intense yearly battles between dog dealers and activists continue to kick off. Since 2010, the carnival of people gathering to eat doggies and lychee liquor has continued despite tremendous national and international controversy. Reporters from all over China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and abroad fly to Yulin every year, while dog lovers try to save as many dogs as they can, begging vendors with tears and arguing with dog eaters on street.

In 2014, Yang Xiaoyun, from a Tianjin animal shelter, spent over 100,000 RMB to buy 320 dogs from vendors. She was criticized about wasting donors’ money and encouraging more demand in the dog market instead. It was also unwise to ship all the sick dogs back to Tianjin, nearly 2,500 km away, after they had just gotten out of the truck to Yulin.

The people of Yulin can’t understand why they are being suddenly condemned for something they’ve always done. They consider it a typical characteristic of the emerging middle class; now, these people can afford a pet and declare their care about animals in an effort to show off. Just 20 years ago, no one cared how they butchered a dog. Now they are pointed fingers and questioning the idea of killing a dog for food.

No matter what, the image of Yulin has been damaged because of this notorious festival. Two weeks before the festival began in 2014, the Yulin government released a statement stating that the government had never organized any kind of dog meat and lychee festival. According to them, it was launched by local businesses as a way to celebrate the summer solstice.

In 2014, Yang Xiaoyun, from a Tianjin animal shelter, spent over 100,000 RMB to buy 320 dogs from vendors. She was criticized about wasting donors’ money and encouraging more demand in the dog market instead.

Though the festival itself was created sometime in the 1990s, local Yulin people have been consuming dogs for hundreds of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dog meat reduces humidity in human body, which explains why it’s popular mainly in southern cities where the weather is more humid.

Dog meat is also considered “hot” and possesses a yang property, as does lychee. In any other time during the year, these two beloved foods of Yulin are not recommended to be eaten together for philosophical reason. The combination of the pair is acceptable on the summer solstice because it is said to be the day with the strongest yang qi.

In this theory, people should “combat yang with yang,” so eating dog meat and lychee on June 21 shouldn’t harm the body as much as other days. The effort put into inventing “logical” excuses to eat puppies is quite extensive.

In 2016, an 11 million signature petition against the festival from all over the world was handed over to Yulin government. After years of boycotting, the 2016 carnival seemed to exhibit a slightly lower profile. Some restaurants even suggested visitors to come on other days instead of summer solstices.

A survey of 2,000 citizens from over 1,000 cities and 500 counties, villages and towns by Xinhua in 2016 indicated that 64 percent of people supported the cancelation of the festival, 52 percent of people agreed to a complete ban on the dog meat trade, 62 percent of people thought that the festival damaged China’s international image and 70 percent of people expressed that they had never eaten dog meat before.
The debate continues.